tv Washington Week PBS May 6, 2011 10:05pm-10:30pm EDT
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washington sitting in for gwen ifill this week gloria borger of cnn. >> good evening. what a week as reporters scrambled on sunday with word from dramatic news of the president, 57 million americans tune in to hear president obama announce the death of osama bin laden. >> for over two decades bin laden has been al-qaeda leader and symbol and has continued to plot against our country. his death marks our most significant effort to defeat al-qaeda. >> president obama explained how a group of u.s. special forces stormed bin laden's pakistani hideout and executed a mission that had been years in the mission. in a visit to fort campbell, kentucky the president met with members of the military team
that carried out that mission. >> thanks to the incredible skill and courage of countless individuals, intelligence, military over many years. the terrorist leader who struck our nation will never threaten america again. >> so tom, let's start with you. how did the u.s. do it? >> well, gloria, the short answer is two dozen navy seals came sweeping in at midnight on black hawk helicopters. blew a whole where osama bin laden was hiding. found him, shot him dead along with four other people. that was the military operation. but the truth is that this -- and it was impressive. but the truth is this was less of a military achievement than it was an intelligence achievement. the truth is the navy seals do operations like this all the time. they're very good at it. but this was an intelligence
operation that was one of a kind, that was over a decade in making and truly remarkable, the most intelligence remarkable achievement in decades, probably. what it required was putting together a pain staking step by step process of clues involving human intelligence, electronic intelligence, surveillance that culminated in them finding bin laden. that's the key. it was an intelligence achievement. >> you know, they finally decided to look at the couriers. since bin laden had separated himself, they thought, ok, now we've got to find the courier who is were helping bin laden and that's how they found him, right? >> that's not easy. they had a particular courier. they had known about him for years. even after they got his nickname, it took two years after to figure out where he lived and where he was based in
pakistan. only last year in the late summer did they tracked him down. and some pakistani agents scribbled down his license number and that takes him to abbotobat. it's a long pain staking trail that leads us eventually to this compound, an hour away to islamabad. >> you can see in those assessments that they were zeroing in in their questioning of detainees years ago. you can see them trying to find out who's the courier. once they get the name, trying to get more information -- >> about the nickname. then they had to get the name right. he released 30 tapes, audiotapes, underly on ale jazeera. you knew that the chain of custody was the only. he quit using cell phones. when they found his compound,
one of the things that was a tip-off, no cell phone, no computer or hard wire. it looked for a million plus compound, it looked like it didn't have much coming with communications. >> leon panetta could only tell the president that it was a 60% to 80% certainty that osama bin laden was in that compound. >> as impressive as the intelligence work was, then a very important political operational decision what to do. you might be looking at hindsight and you said naturally that is the call to make. remember when jimmy keart tried to rescue them in tehran. >> and the helicopter did fail in this case. anything can go wrong and this one really was remarkably well.
>> and he had other choices. the president was to push a bottom, launch a missile or a bomb and flatten the place. do you really know then that you've got osama bin laden. the president decided to take a risky option because it could go wrong very easily because they wanted the proof to know 10 years later that we actually did get him. >> and we know now that the c.i.a. had a safe house in abbotobad where they were monitoring this house. >> how did that keep that undercover? >> amazing. >> it is amazing. >> i read somewhere it's the nearest thing to britain in pakistan. it's not like having a safe house out in the northwest frontier where you would stand out. it's a much more cosmopolitan city than that. but still they had to keep this very low profile. my understanding is that these c.i.a. operatives that were
there, one of the things was to provide perimeter security just in case the pakistani's tried to intervene. in the end they decided that that was to risky. so they did it in this stealthy way. >> was this always a kill mission and not a capture mission? >> i think it was. i think the last thing this administration wanted was a court case with osama bin laden. there would be hostages being taken all over the world, masterful propaganda trying to hijack those as a prom ganda victory. but they had to be careful because the whole war on terror was fought under the laws of war. and the laws of war, you can kill your enemy. but if he is throwing his hands up and surrendering at that point with the laws of war, you're supposed to, i believe to take them prisoner.
in this case, he would never be taken alive. there was concerns whether he had a vest that was a suicide vest or an a.k. 47. -- ak-47. this was basically going to be a an assassin. >> u.s. forces obliged for his desire to be martyrdom. if they captured him alive would that make him look weak? if you look at the al-qaeda statement he's a hero because he was a martyr. >> al-qaeda has actually released a statement because of course, there was a big debate and we'll talk about that about whether we should release -- the united states should release the picture of him with the bullet wound in the head. now al-qaeda has released a statement. saying without the photograph saying that indeed he is dead. so how do we interpret that. should we now understand that there is going to be more --
that there is going be retaliation? that there -- we need to be worried about this? >> well, of course, i think u.s. intelligence agencies are very concerned about that. i think, you know, the chances of some kind of target of u.s. or western installations in pakistan itself is very high. i mean, i don't think that al-qaeda would want necessarily if they attack a cricket match that can inflame the pakistani people. but if they can attack some kind of western installation make it seem like revenge for osama bin laden. >> what kind of intelligence we're getting out of this compound? everyone is calling it a treasure-trove. do we think that is the case? >> they got some written
documents, videotape and their poring through that. -they're poring through that. a little bit of precaution is wise about what the first reports are. they are saying that there was communication between him and other al-qaeda leaders. we hope that al zahiry's communication hopefully is there. we don't know yet. there's also this idea that he had talked about derailing some trains in americaing to coincide with the 10-year anniversary this september 11. that chatter has been picked up by the intelligence community out there in this sort of -- >> wasn't the plan on paper? >> it was. but it's fascinating that a lot of our assumptions about bin laden were wrong. we thought he was in the cave along the border. the great thinkers and the
people of the west. we thought he was on dialysis. he was more of a figurehead when it comes to al-qaeda. but he wasn't really directing traffic. all of those seem to be false assumptions, which again ouths to give us some pause in our thinking about how much we know about places like that. >> although, i did run the idea that he's waking up every morning and plotting these plots like this train thing by a top c.i.a. guy who's recently retired and at this point, yeah, he's got nothing better to do he has these plots and yet they may get communicated through code etc. but that's not the same thing as being operationally drectsing serious terror plots. i think the conventional wisdom that he's more inspirationalle than operational may hold true. >> let's talk about what was going on inside the white house
at this particular moment. i want to put up a picture, the famous picture that's iconic at this point of the situation room. you see there. they're staring at something that's captivating. they all look powerless in a way. and these are really, really important people here. and i'll start with you peter baker. what were they looking at? do we really know? >> it's a great picture taken by the official white house photographer. so it's not a media picture. none of us really know exactly what was happening. it looks like a scene from a movie. his head is being blown up right in front of them. that's why the president looks so grin. what was happening leon panetta was narrating what was happening from a video link at the c.i.a. headquarters.
they won't talk about what was happening. that picture makes it look a lot more dramatic. but in any case it tells you something about that moment. the president is off to the side. and he's almost sort of with drawn compared with some of the other figures. the face on john brennan and dennis mcdunna. hillary looked tense. but she said she was suffering from a lerjis. -- allergies. >> there was a rush, the white house would say transparency to a certain degree efment how do you explain that?
are they trying to hide information? or is it that people like us are trying to push them? >> about the only thing that did sort of go wrong with the way that they unfolded -- spilled out the story themselves and you're right, in the very first big briefing that the media got from john brennan was there was some inaccuracies. part of the problem they're trying to infold this story about how bin laden was a coward and hiding behind a woman but also shooting. it turns out those things were not true. we don't know why that happened. i'm sure they regret it because really the story -- the fact that we do know them now are plenty good enough from their standpoint. it obviously had a tremendously successful ending. not a singlele american was
injured. they're going to look back with regret for doing that in that regard. >> you know that the first reports are always wrong. information is often fungible after any kind of operation. you're a little surprised that they wouldn't know that in putting that out. and john brennan who has been chasing bin laden, you saw him smiling. i never saw him smile before. he had served in saudi arabia. so i think he got up in the narrative of a coward hiding behind a woman and probably was too quick to put that out there. >> and so much is happening so quickly. they also had to get rid of the body. then they had to decide whether to release these pictures. and there was internal disagreement about whether or not you should release that picture. >> and the interesting thing,
gloria, it comes in the aftermath of the birth certificate controversy. and i guess there was some thought that people are not going to believe that bin laden is really dead. but now al-qaeda has announced it. so that was the strongest argument for releasing the pictures. now that this has happened, i would be surprised that these pictures are going to come out in the short term. listen to john mccain on whether he would release the photographs. >> that's a judgment that has to be made by the president, taking all things under consideration. my initial opinion is that it's not necessary to do so. i think there's amplele proof -- there is ample proof. but i will defer to the president of the united states. sarah palin thought differently. >> she did.
but she was almost the only republican in the great majority of republicans in this town and elsewhere came to the clon collusion that this is great success. quite a few of the republicans did as we saw speaker john boehner twin has compliment to the president and the former president. that was about -- i wouldn't say that was grudging. -- mitt romney said it was fine not to release the photo. >> but there was a difficult political move here for the president because he really had to walk a fine line not looking like he was taking victory laps, meeting with the families, going to fort cammable -- cammable, kentucky.
>> the president should find a way to mark the occasion -- not to celebrate fwow mark wit the victims of osama bin laden and to celebrate the navy seals. he tried to do it without making it a spect call. it would have been an interesting scene if the two had gotten together. the but it's, you know, -- tough. tough. i want to take a turn here, james about what this all means , particularly in terms of our relationship with pakistan. the big question is what did they know and when did they know it? it's pretty much ruptured that relationship for the she were. it's very hard to look at these circumstances and that none of the pakistani officials and
this is their west pointed town right down from their top military academy. just hard to believe that no one knew -- he was sitting in this compound. it does sort of strain your believe there. they lie to themselves. the intelligence service lies to the military. the military lies to the civilian government and all the way around. >> and we give them 3 billion. >> the administration wants -- we think this is a possibility to have serious reconciliation talks with the taliban. mark grossman our special envoy is over there this week talking about that very thing and with them and with the afghans. we also need some help if we have a hot line on zawahiri.
we need them toe sort of take that seriously. my first reaction is hey, they're trying to drum up a lot of support. this was america sort of invading us. and trying to be in cahoots with them. >> leon panetta told members saying they were either involved or incompetent. neither is a good place to be. >> i've heard sort of this line elsewhere in the government is trying to give the answer. that have no reason to believe that they were complicit in
leading been laden stay there. you know, he said that as zpwhroke a sense but i think that there are a lot of people in this government think the pakistanis knew. >> our security compound that pakistanis didn't know about. we were there for weeks and months. we kept that hidden. >> of course, it has nuclear weapons. >> and john boehner came out, doesn't look like this is going be a partisan issue, another case for that. pakistan's a critical partner and we break with them right now. >> we only have a minute or so left. but the political argument lrg remain the same. the same argument over torcher.
did this come as a result of the waterboarding type techniques that have been banned by president obama, supported by president bush. there's lots of different way that has brought us together. >> what about the hope that this would tap into some sort of national unity that would carryover into the bigger argument -- or the big argument that we're going to have whether it's about the dead or afghanistan. i talked to a lot of people in congress and not very many people think it's going relate to that. those are domestic issues. these kinds of moment of unity typically is short lived. it will help the president's image as it goes on. in terms of the election it's 18 months away.
and i think imyou're -- it's going to be separate from this. >> they sh rushedrug. >> they certainly hope so. in getting the american people to have this natural place. maybe it was five years ago whern he was at the top of his powers. >> we're going to have to end on that optimistic note. thank you all for being here. that's going wrap it up for us. be sure to check out the washington weekends website at pbs.org for a look back in the vault. the year is 2011. . i'm gloria borger.
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